HOF Candidates: 60-56
Continuing with your votes for the 100 best Hall of Fame candidates.
No. 60: Nomar Garciaparra Score: 39.86 I wrote at some length about No-Nonsense Nomar here.
As you know, I am also doing a list of the 100 greatest baseball players in major league history ... I'm going to attack that list in earnest when this series is done. As you also (probably) know, I used a special formula for that list, which puts a huge emphasis on a player's peak value.
I was curious how Nomah would do on such a list. He was incredible from 1997 to 2003. Over those six seasons (he was hurt in 2001 and missed almost the whole year), he posted 41 WAR and, perhaps even more impressive, 27.3 wins above average. He hit .325/.372/.557 and played a fantastic shortstop -- good enough, surely, to win the Gold Glove in three or four of those years (though he never did win one).
Here's the thing, though: Those six seasons basically made up ALL of his career value. As such, he is not viewed by most as a powerful Hall of Fame candidate.
And this leads to the question: Can someone be good enough over six seasons to make the Hall of Fame?
After a very short study, my determination is ... yes, a player can make it on six years. But they have to be INSANELY good years.
-- Mike Trout could make the Hall of Fame entirely based on his performance from 2012 through 2017, even though he didn't even play a full year in 2017. He totaled 53.7 WAR, 40.6 WAA, won two MVPs, finished second three other times, and made the All-Star team every year.
-- Albert Pujols could make the Hall of Fame entirely based on his performance from 2004 through 2009. He totaled 53.1 WAR, 41 WAA, won three MVPs, finished second and third two other years, won a Gold Glove and made the All-Star team each year.
Then you look at the best six-season stretches of non-Hall of Famers -- not counting the Steroid Void -- and you find that they're SHOCKINGLY similar to Nomah's.
Remember, Nomah was 41 wins above replacement and 27.3 wins above average, right?
Shoeless Joe from 1911 to 1916 was 41.4 WAR, 27.3 WAA. Virtually identical.
Joey Votto from 2011 to 2017? Again -- almost exactly the same value: 40.2 WAR, 27.4 WAA. ...
Todd Helton from 2000 to 2005? Pretty close to the same value: 42.1 WAR, 30 WAA.
Andruw Jones from 1998 to 2003: 39.1 WAR, 26.8 WAA.
Ken Boyer is a little bit lower from 1959 to '64-- 39.1 WAR, 23.9 WAA.
Chase Utley is actually a bit better from 2005 to 2010 -- 45.1 WAR, 34.1 WAA -- but I'm not sure how much the average person trusts his remarkable defensive numbers.
So, you get the point. It's possible to be so good over six years that you can make the Hall of Fame ... but you basically need to be the unquestioned best player in baseball, you need to win multiple MVPs, Gold Gloves, whatever it takes. Koufax basically did this on the pitcher side. But Johan Santana did not. You can't just be great. You have to be legendary.
And guys like Nomah, who are incredible but not quite transcendent, well, we still talk about them, but Cooperstown is a longshot.
No. 59: Willie Randolph Score: 40.38 On Dec. 11, 1975, the Pirates and Yankees exchanged doctors. The Pirates traded Dock Ellis to New York in exchange for Doc Medich.
Well, OK, they weren't both doctors. Ellis was named Dock after his father, Dock Sr. And George Medich was called Doc because he went to medical school and, after he finished playing, he became an orthopedic surgeon.
In any case, in the Dock-for-Doc deal, Medich was considered the more stable pitcher. That's why the Pirates had to throw in a couple of other players to make the deal happen. They threw in Ken Brett, whom I've written about a few times, such as here.
But they also threw in a 21-year-old Willie Randolph because they already had Rennie Stennett to play second base. Because of this, it's one of the worst deals in Pirates history.
"We had a duplication of talent at second base," Pirates general manager Joe L. Brown said.
Yeah ... about that. Rennie Stennett was a fine player. But duplication of talent? Not exactly. Willie Randolph got on base (he walked more than 1,200 times), ran the bases effectively, played superb defense and was the sort of teammate that everyone loved. He's one of the 20 greatest second basemen in baseball history. He has a viable Hall of Fame case ... though there are a couple of second basemen who seem to be ahead of him in line.
No. 58: Dwight Gooden Score: 40.87 My best friend in high school, Robert, had a satellite dish. It was an astonishing piece of technology in the mid-1980s. It was like owning your own NASA mission control. I'm sure I will get some of the details wrong, but as I remember it, you could pick up pretty much anything in the entire world with that dish -- you could get people's wedding movies -- but you had to know the precise direction to point the thing.
Since Robert was a Mets fan, and this was 1984 and '85, our main goal was picking up Mets games. I can remember us spending what seemed like hours trying to get the correct vectors for picking up the Mets. It seems like some nights, it was mission failure -- we just couldn't get the game and ended up doing something else like listening to Revolution 9 backward.*
*I know people believe it says, "Turn me on, dead man," but I'm pretty sure it actually is, "Bring me in, Dedmon," referring to mid-'80s reliever Jeff Dedmon.
But when we caught the Mets ... we got to watch Dwight Gooden pitch.
[caption id="attachment_25155" align="aligncenter" width="453"] At his best, Gooden was, quite simply, electric.[/caption]
I still think of Gooden as the most thrilling pitcher of my lifetime. I saw that one Brilliant Reader, in the comments, calls Gooden "infamous," and I get why he would say that after all of Gooden's off-the-field troubles.
But it misses not only how good the young Gooden was, but also how cool he was, how fun and wonderful and full of life. He wasn't just a great pitcher, he was a joy. He was like Steph Curry or Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson or Mario Lemieux or Steff Graf when they showed up. All of these new possibilities just opened up.
Gooden's 1985 season remains an absurdity. He went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, led the league in everything that mattered then (wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA), and by Baseball-Reference WAR (12.2) and WAA (9.8), it's the best pitching season since the end of World War II.
No. 57: Will Clark Score: 41.45 Clayton Kershaw's hero ... he was also mine in a specific way. Whenever I would go to a batting cage in the late 1980s, I ALWAYS tried to hit left-handed, so that I could pretend to be like Will Clark.
I know that Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing is more or less universally acknowledged to be the sweetest in baseball history. And Junior's was a thing of beauty.
If granted one wish, however, I'd take Will the Thrill's swing.
He probably should have won the MVP award in 1989. It was given to his teammate, Kevin Mitchell, and you can't really argue with it; Mitchell had a fabulous, MVP-worthy season. But I suspect the 30-or-so point difference in on-base percentage and Clark's superior defense would have made him the choice if people cared about such things in 1989.
Quite often in this series, we see players who just missed winning an award that, with a revote, might have been theirs. Would Clark's Hall of Fame case have been fundamentally different had he won the 1989 MVP? Almost certainly not. His career just wasn't quite long enough to win over the voters.
BUT ... he surely would have gotten more than one year on the ballot.
No. 56: Bobby Bonds Score: 41.53 So what if you only talked about the good stuff? Bobby Bonds had five 30-homer-30-stolen base seasons and came pretty close four other times. That was unprecedented. Even Willie Mays did it only twice.
Even now, Bonds is the all-time leader in 30-30 seasons (tied with, who else, his son).
Bobby Bonds won three Gold Gloves. He twice finished Top 5 in the MVP balloting. When he retired -- and for a decade after he retired -- he and Willie Mays were the only players in baseball history with 300 homers and 300 steals.
He scored more runs than Jim Rice.
Right now, he still ranks fifth all-time by power/speed number, sandwiched between A-Rod and Joe Morgan.
His career WAR is the same as Willie Stargell's.
So what about the rest? Bonds had to bear the brunt of being the next Willie Mays -- a weight that could overwhelm any player. As such, he was doomed to disappoint, and few players in baseball history were called "disappointment" more. He absolutely smashed the all-time strikeout record in his first full season, and then he broke it again in his second year -- and this was at a time when strikeouts were a black mark on a player. He also was aloof, he drank too much, and he could be nasty. One former teammate used to regale me with just awful Bobby Bonds stories; the teammate often said that he liked everybody he played with ... except Bobby Bonds.
Bonds also had to endure more than his share of racism.
Bonds hated the way people viewed him. In 1975, he hit .270/.375/.512 for the Yankees with 32 homers, 30 steals, 93 runs and 85 RBIs. That year he set the career record for leadoff homers with 28. He was a five-win player for an ascending team, even though he was injured most of the year, and he fully expected to be a part of those Yankees.
He was shell-shocked, heartbroken and just ticked off when the Yankees dealt him.
"The next time something like this happens ... it's going to have to be with my consent, 'cause otherwise I'm not going," he told the press. "There's no way I'm going to go to a club, do this all on one leg, then find out I'm gone someplace else.
"I tried to give the Yanks everything I had last year. I played hurt since June and still hit 32 homers. That's a depressing thing, that I contributed to the club and now I'm gone."
He was traded FOUR MORE TIMES in the next four years -- twice in 1978 alone. Is it any wonder that his son might have come to the major leagues with a chip on his shoulder?
The last Bobby Bonds trade was from Cleveland to St. Louis in 1979 -- he was 33 years old. And he was done -- after that, he was released three times and sold once in those dreadful final two seasons of his career.
Barry and Bobby Bonds combined for 1,094 homers and 975 stolen bases. That's so ludicrous, it boggles the imagination.